Wednesday, August 10, 2011


Gershwin Hotel

After watching the Amoralist production of HotelMotel, a pair of one-acts on site at the Gershwin Hotel, I was left with two questions. For Pink Knees on Pale Skin, written and directed by Amoralist Derek Ahonen, the question was: When does theatre tip over into voyeurism and porn? For Animals and Plants, written and directed by Adam Rapp, the question was: Will male playwrights ever get bored of writing about stupid men doing stupid things? 

[spoilers abound] 

Pink Knees is the story of two couples seeking "orgy therapy" to save their marriages. The Wyatts' problem is the husband's infidelity. The Williams' problem is the wife's anorgasmia. The therapist's problem is, "Thereʼs this huge empty part of me that I donʼt know how to fill." The play's problem is that neither the characters nor the situation nor the denouement are convincing.

James Kautz, Sarah Lemp
(photo: Monica Simoes)

I assume that Pink Knees is at least partially satire, but Ahonen doesn't understand sexuality sufficiently to pull it off. For example, the therapist provides the anorgasmic woman with an instant cure, and all the characters are unaware that there are other forms of foreplay than oral sex. The show raises all sorts of issues and then drops them: homosexuality, homophobia, racism, sadomasochism, incest, etc. Many lines are awkward requests for laughs--for example, "I don't teach chimps to have orgies, that's Jane Goodall's job," which is wrong in so many ways that I wouldn't know where to begin.

Perhaps the most surprising fault of the show is that it cops out. For all its bluster, it is ultimately conservative in its values. The promised orgy never occurs, and the happy endings are all monogamous. When one couple does make love, there is an odd combination of purience--in the small hotel-room setting, the audience is practically in bed with them--and modesty, as the therapist circles the bed, making sure the sheet always completely covers them. And it's weird that the only character who is completely nude in the show is the black man--while I'm sure Ahonen et al had no intention of being racist, there is an uncomfortable history of black men being used as beefcake.

This being an Amoralist production, it is not without its strong points. The acting is excellent, and there are funny and even wise lines. I particularly liked this exchange:
Robert (who has been cheating on his wife for a long time):  Iʼll never make the same mistake twice.
Dr. Sarah: You did make the same mistake twice, Robert. You made it hundreds of times over three years.
Robert: I meant… with someone else.
William Apps
(photo: Monica Simoes)

For Animals and Plants, the hotel room of Pink Knees becomes a cheap motel room decorated with taxidermied animals and strewn with empty pizza boxes. Our two main characters are Dantly, who sits quietly on the bed, almost unmoving, almost unblinking, and tries to puzzle out life, and his partner-in-crime-of-ten-years, Burris, who is frenetic, constantly exercising and jumping around, and full of answers. They are in Boone, NC, for a drug deal. We know that things will not go well.

Unfortunately, the way in which things do not go well is undeveloped. The characters are partners and friends, but they're not. Burris has a great vocabularly (some of his definitions are pretty wonderful) until the play needs him not to. And the magic realism moments seem grafted on to add significance to a story that is ultimately a little too familiar and a little too underwritten. When the ending comes, it tries to claim a significance it hasn't earned.

On the other hand, Animals and Plants is frequently entertaining. The conversations about Tiger Lily vs Wendy and the advantages of putting Right Guard on your balls are funny, Dantly has a charming woebegone air, and Burris's hyperactivity amuses. The contrast between the characters works, and Dantly's identification with plants is well supported by his almost total lack of movement.  And William Apps (Dantly) and Matthew Pilleci (Burris) are both wonderful.

For both shows, sitting in such a small audience in such a small performance space was fun, and it certainly afforded a deep (if not always welcome) sense of intimacy. It is not every day that you have to hold your breath in a theatre because the Right Guard that someone is spraying on his balls is coming right at you. But the setting, like both of the plays, ultimately comes across as arbitrary.

I remain a fan of the Amoralists. I still plan to see all of their shows. But HotelMotel is not their shining hour.

(press ticket, in the hotel/motel room with the characters)

1 comment:

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